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A taste of life inside: Is prison in Jersey a punishment?

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THE heavy clank of the steel cell door as it closes at 7.30pm started the countdown clock on 12 hours locked inside a cell, not too dissimilar in size (and quality) to first-year university digs.

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The sense of isolation and breeze-block-like pillow are somewhat mitigated by the fact that most inmates, me included, have in their cells multi-channel televisions and their own phones to call a list of pre-registered numbers of loved ones, largely at their will.

Not quite Shawshank Redemption, then. Everyone’s favourite prison film might have lost some its power had Morgan Freeman’s character, Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding, watched Emmerdale (or the American equivalent) every night in between chats with his gran.

It’s also true that inmates choose from a menu for most meals – hearty, balanced feeds, cooked by prisoners, that certainly don’t leave you feeling hungry or your taste buds dissatisfied. No Oliver Twist-style gruel in sight.

Thursday night’s menu included a choice of a country chicken casserole or creamy vegetable vol-au-vent, both served with turmeric rice and a coconut sponge cake for desert. On Saturday’s there is an afternoon fry-up, too.

Industry-leading health and dental care is on offer as well, without the costs associated for civilians on the outside. Education, including Open University degrees and vocational courses for trade work and horticulture, is also accessible. Likewise, there is a library, in-prison chapel and top of the range sports hall and gym staffed by nutrition and exercise professionals.

A Hilton indeed, one might argue. Pair that with the fact that inmates receive pay for their jobs in prison – as cooks, gardeners, cleaners, carpenters – of up to £30 a week and some might question: where is the punishment or deterrence?

But the punishment in prison is not about poor conditions or hard labour, which may have been the case in the past. It’s the loss of almost all liberty that every one of La Moye’s current 138 inmates will feel, bar maybe a few whose lives on the outside are so horrendous that jail is preferable.

Treat a man, or woman (there are nine women currently in prison in Jersey) like a dog and they’ll behave like an animal, it could be said. Treat them with respect and dignity, regardless of their crimes, and give them access to education and healthcare that life may have deprived them of before, and they might be able to one day contribute to society.

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Serious assaults in La Moye are rare. One offender is currently awaiting sentencing for attempting to attack a member of staff and last year prisoner Benjamin Paton was jailed for 18 months for attacking his snoring cell-mate with a ‘shiv’ – a homemade knife. It’s nothing on the scale seen in the UK. Largely inmates are on first-name terms with ‘screws’ and healthy respect is evident.

The rehabilitation argument might be difficult to put to the victims of those who have suffered the most heinous offences. It’s perhaps impossible to explain to the victim of childhood rape why their attacker, whose actions have undoubtedly changed the course of their life, is being treated any other way than like a feral dog.

Nonetheless, rehabilitation is a pillar of the British penal system. Recidivism rates at La Moye average about 38% over the past five years – 1% higher than the UK. And, at last count, it had spiked to 44%. Prison Governor Nick Cameron and the Justice and Home Affairs Department have a plan to cut those numbers through post-release supervision legislation.

Inmates have almost every ounce of their liberty stripped from them from the moment they arrive at the prison.

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On induction, they are intimately searched – a necessary but undignified process. From then, you’re told when to wake up, when to wash, when to eat, when to work and when to sleep. When the door shuts at 7.30pm on a weekday, it’s 12 hours until someone will open it again. The prisoner has no control. At weekends, prisoners are locked up from 5pm. An inmate will never walk through a door on their own. If he or she is an enhanced (well-behaved) prisoner, there is a maximum of two hours of family visits per week.

Visits are carried out in a clinical setting – inmate sitting opposite a loved one with a gap of two feet in between. Conversations can be difficult to hear and will often, given the circumstances, inevitably include difficult chats about relationships, mortgage payments, debts and ill family members. So imagine the scenario where your partner suggests a relationship through bars is too hard, too much to take.

La Moye Prison. Jail to Bail charity event. Volunteers put in prison for 24 hours to raise money for charity. Visiting time. Emily Smith and Jack Maguire Picture: ROB CURRIE. (27171559)

Once that hour is up, and the inmates are herded back to their cells like cattle, they have a week to stew following potentially difficult conversations. That is a punishment.

La Moye is not Belmarsh. It’s not suffering from the crippling overcrowding that is bringing the criminal justice system to its knees in the UK.

Prisoners are lucky, if that is the correct word, to be incarcerated in Jersey rather than elsewhere. But don’t let anyone ever tell you it’s not a punishment.

lJack spent 24 hours in prison to raise money and awareness for The Shelter Trust. More pictures in Monday’s JEP.

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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